The state-of-the-art paradigm for industrial and municipal scale desalination is a site-specific sequence of pretreatment, treatment, post-treatment, and residuals management processes. Nearly every project uses a customized design that draws from a large number of possible combinations of the currently available physical, chemical and biological processes. That paradigm was developed in an era of centralized desalination needs. Critical challenges related to process innovation include: a narrow operating range for current desalination technologies that results in system fragility and necessitates a range of expensive and energy-intensive pre- and post-treatment processes; a unit operations mindset that adds complexity and cost to systems; and labor intensive and sub-optimal operation of water treatment systems when variability of influent water conditions vary or subsystem issues are experienced. This topic area advances two categories of R&D critical to advancing NAWI goals: (1) novel and intensified processes and (2) autonomous and adaptable water systems.
The potential impacts of novel process concepts, component technologies and control methodologies for this topic area will be evaluated in the context of pipe parity metrics such as life-cycle energy demand, levelized cost of water and system reliability. Example target outcomes for Process Innovation & Intensification include: (1) Novel technologies and processes that extend the operating range of treatment systems to reduce pre- and post-treatment steps, energy intensity, and cost of treatment trains; (2) Process-intensified methods that result in at least a 2× reduction in the cost of brine concentration and enable high recovery compared to current state of the art technologies; and (3) advances in water treatment system automation, process monitoring and process control that that enable closed-loop feedback control, optimized system performance, early detection and self-correction of system faults, adaptation to variable feedwater conditions, and reduced system operating, maintenance, and labor costs.